Social media is not exactly known as the most reliable place to get information, but recently, misinformation surrounding the SAFE-T Act has spread like wildfire.

This act seeks to reform criminal justice in Illinois by doing away with cash bail, increasing detainee rights and requiring body cameras for all police officers by 2025, among other things.

While the act was initially brought to the floor in January 2021, it only recently caught the attention of Illinoisians and people across the country when a video went viral of Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau voicing his opposition for the act.

This take on the act led to the nickname the “Illinois Purge” as many people assumed the act would let violent criminals back out onto the street.

But we need to make some things clear, as many are unaware of the goals and reasons behind this act.

Cash bail has never been about “keeping dangerous criminals off the streets.” The only thing cash bail has been good at is keeping poor people in jail while the rich get to return to their homes.

What this act seeks to do is establish hearings soon after arrests to determine if the accused can return home while awaiting their court date. If the judge deems the defendant dangerous, then they will stay in jail.

Pekau alleged that this meant that rapists, kidnappers and murders would be able to roam free, when in reality, if the judge is using common sense, all of those crimes would count as “dangerous” and the defendant would stay locked up.

This kind of speech is extremely problematic. Just because someone may disagree with an act, bill or law, should not mean they can use fearmongering to mislead people to think like they do.

On top of class disparities, people of color in this country are unfairly targeted by police. A 2020 study from New York University found that Black drivers were 20% more likely to be pulled over by police than white drivers.

If this act works the way it is meant to, it should decrease disproportionate charges against Black and Brown Americans.

Rather than focusing on petty charges like traffic stops and parking violations, police should be able to redirect their attention to violent crimes and imminent dangers.

The SAFE-T Act has been called a landmark for criminal justice reform because historically, people of color could be arrested and held for days, weeks or months until evidence was presented. The act outlines that evidence needs to be presented within 48 hours.

I support the SAFE-T Act because at its core, it will be good for disadvantaged communities in Illinois. However, like any other piece of legislation in this country, it is not perfect.

Obviously, I am not a police officer so I cannot attest to how long it takes to process evidence or go through body camera footage, but I do believe this act will put the right pressure on our officers to prioritize the right cases over others.

The success of the SAFE-T Act will depend on our legislators and law enforcement officers, who have once again made acts like this a divisive topic; it has a lot of potential, should it be used to prioritize people over becoming merely a political statement.

ELIZABETH URBAN is News Editor for The Vidette. Urban can be contacted at Follow Urban on Twitter at @eliizabethurban.  

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